GJEP/ STOP GE Trees Campaign Interventions at UN Biodiversity Convention

The following five interventions were made by Co-Director Anne Petermann to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Ninth Conference of the Parties in support of a global ban on GE trees. The final intervention was never read since the President of the COP would not allow Petermann to speak.

Intervention, 5/30/08

Thank you Mr. President,

I speak today on behalf of Global Forest Coalition, which is a coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organizations from 6 continents, as well as Global Justice Ecology Project; and the STOP GE Trees Campaign, which includes 137 organizations in 34 countries around the world—including communities that will be most immediately affected by commercialization of genetically engineered trees.

The CBD is charged with providing guidance towards the protection of biodiversity, and yet it has failed to effectively address one of the most clear and imminent threats to biodiversity, the release of genetically engineered trees. Rather than taking up its responsibilities to forests, biodiversity, wildlife, local communities and indigenous peoples by stopping the dangerous and destructive release of GE trees, the CBD has permitted a few Parties with vested financial interests in commercialization of GE trees to act against both the global community and against the valiant efforts of the African Group and many other Parties here who worked so hard to suspend the release of GE trees—an international action that would have been critical to protect global forest ecosystems from trans-boundary contamination.

In this respect, while the words ‘Precautionary approach’ may be present in the final decision, the meaning of them—the spirit of them–is absent.

This is similarly notable in the case of Agrofuels.  Worldwide there is increasing acknowledgement that biofuel production on a large-scale simply cannot be sustainable. The wide-ranging social and ecological impacts of biofuel production have been well documented in Brazil and elsewhere.  Here, however, the CBD, charged with protecting biodiversity, has adopted a text focused on promoting the “so called” benefits of biofuel use.

The fact that Parties have failed to take strong collective international action means that more forests will be destroyed, more biodiversity devastated and more peoples displaced.  Global warming will be worsened and livelihoods lost. 

As has historically been the case, the work to protect ecosystems will ultimately and unjustly fall upon the communities and peoples that live there.

We had hoped this body would step up to the challenge presented it, in light of the serious and irrevocable consequences of GE tree contamination, and of rampant forest destruction, water depletion and loss of land caused by agrofuels.

The CBD has instead chosen to actively embrace business and a market-based approach to biodiversity conservation. This has had the inevitable effect of watering down protection of biodiversity where it runs counter to the interests of business.

This was particularly so in the cases of GE trees and agrofuels.  The business-oriented strategy of the CBD is one that I believe this body needs to seriously question as it considers its role in the future protection of biological diversity.   Thank you.

This intervention was made on May 30, during the deliberations on the final version of text of the GE trees decision:

I am here representing the STOP GE Trees Campaign and I just want this body to be absolutely clear that this text paves the way for the commercialization of GE trees with all of the irreversible and transboundary, social and ecological impacts that will be borne by the local communities and indigenous peoples in those regions where GE trees will be released.

I think that is unconscionable.

Intervention, 5/28/08

Thank you Mr. President, Greetings Excellencies:

I speak today on behalf of Global Forest Coalition, which is a coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Organizations from 6 continents, as well as Global Justice Ecology Project. I also speak on behalf of the STOP GE Trees Campaign, which includes 137 organizations in 34 countries around the world—including public interest scientists, foresters, geneticists and many in the very communities threatened by the release of genetically engineered trees.

The position of these organizations, scientists and foresters around the world, as well as the unified position of the NGOs and IPOs present here is for an immediate stop to the release of genetically engineered trees.

In addition, we are pleased to note that the European Parliament, in their resolution of 24 April in preparation for these COP-MOP meetings urged the Commission and the Member States to: “agree a moratorium on the environmental release, including field trials and commercial use, of genetically modified trees.”

We want to strongly support the suspension of any release of GE trees as supported by the Africa Group and many other Parties.  This is the only decision that makes sense due to the unassessed, irreversible and potentially disastrous impacts of transboundary contamination from GE trees on forest biological diversity, forest dependent and indigenous peoples and women, as well as soils, water and even the climate.

Because of the threat of irreversible, transboundary contamination from genetically engineered trees, the Convention on Biological Diversity is clearly mandated to adopt the first paragraph and suspend future plantings of GE trees.

This is not an issue that can wait for the next Convention of the Parties.  By then it may be too late.  In two years, there could already be large-scale releases of GE trees, which would likely be already causing many of the serious and irreversible impacts of which we have previously spoken.

European Parliament resolution of 24 April 2008 on preparations for the COP-MOP meetings on biological diversity and biosafety in Bonn, Germany

Urges the Commission and the Member States to: agree a moratorium on the environmental release, including field trials, and commercial use of genetically modified trees.

Intervention, 5/26/08

Thank you madam chair,

I speak on behalf of Global Forest Coalition, Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign, which includes 137 organizations in 34 countries all over the world—including public interest scientists, foresters, geneticists and many in the very communities threatened by the release of genetically engineered trees.

We would like to speak to paragraph 1. (r). We want to strongly support the position of the African Group with regard to paragraph (r) in support of the suspension of any release of GE trees.  This is the only decision that makes sense due to the unassessed, irreversible and potentially disastrous impacts of GE trees on forest biological diversity, forest dependent and indigenous peoples and women, soils, water and the climate.  Since MOP has referred this issue to an AHTEG and the risks are currently unknown but potentially catastrophic, this body is clearly mandated to adopt the first paragraph and suspend future plantings of GE trees, which has also been the unified position of NGOs and IPOs present here.

The enhanced destruction of forests that would result from the commercialization of GE trees will take a very high toll, not only on wildlife and biodiversity, but on forest-dependent and indigenous communities and women.

While we are speaking in support of the first paragraph 1r, we support the following amendment: the beginning of the paragraph should be changed to refer to the Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety,” which specifically deals with issues of genetic engineering. This is also extremely important since the Precautionary approach under principle 15 of the Rio Declaration is Significantly weaker than precaution as set out under the Cartegena Protocol.  As any reference to precaution under Rio would seriously undermine the precautionary approach, it is critical that this reference to Rio be removed from all parts of the text.

If COP-9 falls short of suspending the release of GE trees, by COP-10 it may be too late.  By then, there could well be large-scale releases of GE trees, which would likely be already causing many of the serious and irreversible impacts of which we have previously spoken.  Parties that support the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and commit to biodiversity protection, cannot simultaneously allow the release of GE trees

Thank you.

Intervention, 5/21/08

Thank you Madam Chair,

Genetically engineered trees pose a tremendous threat to forest biodiversity, and to indigenous peoples and local communities.

I fear that some delegations in this body are not taking this seriously.  This body must strengthen the decision on GE trees made at COP-8, to prevent irreversible social, cultural and ecological impacts.  I wish to thank the delegate from Liberia, and the African Group for insisting on the suspension of the release of GE trees, and also the delegate from Bolivia who pointed out that GE trees will only benefit large companies.

Commercialization of GE trees is moving forward rapidly, driven by pulp and paper and agrofuels industries. 

Wood-based agrofuels will create a massive new demand for wood.  These so-called second generation agrofuels are further driving the commercialization of GE trees and will result in increased illegal logging and accelerated conversion of forests to massive monoculture tree plantations of both conventional and GE trees.  This, in turn, will further drive climate change.

The enhanced destruction of forests that would result from the commercialization of GE trees will take a very high toll, not only on wildlife and biodiversity, but on forest-dependent and indigenous communities and women.  You cannot say that you support the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, and that you are committed to biodiversity protection, yet simultaneously allow the release of GE trees.

A ban on GE trees is critical because of the enormous threat of trans-boundary contamination. Scientists have determined that tree pollen can travel for over 1,000 kilometers.

Even GE tree scientists acknowledge this threat.  In the 2005 FAO report on GE trees, over half of researchers surveyed named unintentional contamination of native ecosystems as a major concern.

I would also like to strongly caution this body about using the Precautionary Principle as defined by Principle 15 under the Rio Declaration. This definition is much weaker than precaution as defined under the Cartegena Protocol, and includes large loopholes that undermine it.

Social movements and environmental organizations around the world are mobilizing against GE trees. The STOP GE Trees Campaign now includes 137 member organizations in 34 countries around the world, including many in the very communities that will be directly affected by the commercialization of GE trees.  These groups are united in their call for an immediate ban on genetically engineered trees.  In addition, the growing consensus of independent scientists who are not affiliated with companies is that GE trees are far too dangerous to release into the environment.

It is now the time for Parties to acknowledge the concerns of civil society and the growing concerns of public interest scientists and foresters around the globe.  The decision from COP-8 must be strengthened.  The Precautionary Principle must be affirmed.  The only way to do this is to immediately stop the release of GE trees and remove existing releases.

We have much more detailed scientific information on these concerns available here.

Thank you.

Top Right: GJEP Co-Director Anne Petermann addresses the Plenary at the UN Biodiversity Convention on 21 May.  Photo: Langelle/ GJEP-GFC

 


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